Winter is coming! Protect your workers from icy perils

By Rich Gaul, BWC Safety Technical Adviser

Winter is right around the corner. Are you and your employees ready for the harsh conditions of the season?

Taking some simple steps can help protect your employees from ailments caused by exposure to low temperatures, wind, and moisture.

The two primary health risks in cold weather are hypothermia and frostbite. Hypothermia occurs when the body loses heat faster than it can replace it, causing your core body temperature to drop below 95 F. Frostbite is a condition where human tissue freezes. Frostbite most commonly affects the face, ears, fingers, and toes.

Early warning signs of hypothermia include feeling extremely cold, shivering, cold or numb fingertips or toes, impaired fine-motor control, slurred speech, confusion or disorientation, and drowsiness.

Early warning signs of frostbite include skin that appears slightly swollen, waxy looking and feels cold or numb. More severe frostbite affects deeper layers of tissue. Skin may become completely numb and blister. Deep tissue, including muscle, blood vessels and bone may freeze and turn black.

Treatment: If someone is experiencing symptoms of hypothermia or frostbite, get the person to a warm, dry environment; remove any wet clothing; wrap them in dry warm blankets or towels; remove any jewelry or constrictive clothing that could restrict blood flow; submerge mild frostbite areas in lukewarm water (100-105 F); have them drink warm sweet liquids; monitor their condition closely and call for emergency medical attention if needed.

Prevention – employers should:

  • Train employees on symptoms and prevention measures for cold stress and frostbite, the importance of self-monitoring, and first aid procedures.
  • Provide engineering controls like wind chill shields, radiant heaters, and de-icing materials.
  • Consider protective clothing that provides warmth such as loose-fitting layers, a hat that covers the ears, mittens/gloves, thick wool socks, and waterproof boots.
  • Implement safe work practices such as:
    • Scheduling routine maintenance and repairs in summer months.
    • Limiting time outdoors and scheduling jobs in the warmer part of the day.
    • Monitoring weather conditions and avoiding exposure to extremely cold temperatures.
    • Providing warm liquids to drink and warming areas for use during breaks.
    • Acclimatizing employees gradually to cold environments.
    • Monitoring employees and providing them means of communication.

Working in cold winter weather conditions or indoor cold environments may be unavoidable, but following the practices outlined above will help keep employees safe when they’re exposed to cold conditions.

If you have questions on improving safety, reducing risk factors, or other occupational safety and health topics, BWC is here to help. Reach out to one of our BWC safety consultants online for assistance or call 1-800-644-6292. Don’t forget to take advantage of our other safety services as well. The Division of Safety and Hygiene offers a wide range of services for all industries at no additional cost to employers, including safety education and training and the BWC safety and video library.

Have you heard? Noise-induced hearing loss is preventable

By Jeffrey Hutchins, Regional Loss Prevention Manager

Hearing loss is something that can affect any of us not only on the job, but in every aspect of our lives.

However, because noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) happens gradually over time, many of us don’t give it the attention it deserves.

That’s why the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) designates every October as National Protect Your Hearing Month. The NIDCD urges you to learn simple ways to protect yourself, your family, and co-workers from NIHL. The following simple solutions from the NIDCD can go a long way toward protecting your hearing.

Turn down the volume

Set maximum volume limits on electronics and keep the volume low on music devices and TVs. Sounds at or above 85 decibels (comparable to heavy city traffic) put you at risk for NIHL, especially if they last a long time. These days, earbuds are a common concern.

“There’s nothing wrong with earbuds that are producing sounds at a low, nontoxic level. But earbuds are bad when you turn them up too loud,” says Dr. James Battey, former director of the NIDCD. “My rule of thumb is, if an individual is standing at arm’s length from you and they can hear your earbuds…that noise is probably over 85 decibels and if delivered for a long enough time will cause noise-induced hearing loss.”

Move away from the noise

To reduce sound intensity and the impact of noise on your ears, increase the distance between you and the noise. Think of this simple step when you are near fireworks, concert speakers, or in a loud restaurant.

Wear hearing protection

Sometimes you can’t easily escape the sound, whether you’re at a movie theater, a concert, a sporting event, or a noisy work environment. Earplugs or protective earmuffs can help. There is a single number required by law on each hearing protector called the noise reduction rating. The NRR for hearing protectors can range from 17-33. The higher the NRR number, the more effective the protection. Be a good hearing health role model by wearing them yourself. If you don’t have hearing protectors, cover your ears with your hands.

In the workplace, think about the types of equipment or jobs that can cause hearing loss, such as:

  • Circular saws
  • Chain saws
  • Firing guns
  • Air-powered ejection equipment
  • Air-operated equipment without mufflers
  • Metal stamping
  • Machining operations

Once you’ve identified the potential sources of loud noises, be sure to take the proper steps to protect yourself and your co-workers from danger. The good news is NIHL is the only type of hearing loss that is completely preventable. If you understand the hazards of noise and how to practice good hearing health, you can protect your hearing for life.

BWC can help

Our industrial hygienists can help you identify NIHL hazards in your workplace with consultations. Our Hearing Conservation Program webinar can be viewed on-demand. The BWC Library also has plenty of resources, including videos, about noise and hearing conservation.

Office manager sentenced to pay back over $30K

Crystal Posey was found guilty of one count of workers’ compensation fraud and must pay back $30,278.61 to the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC). BWC’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU) found Crystal Posey began working as an office manager for a chiropractic clinic in 2015 and was still employed at the end of the investigation. Evidence collected proved Posey knowingly, and with fraudulent intent, worked while simultaneously collecting BWC disability benefits to which she was not entitled.

Posey pleaded guilty to one count of workers’ compensation fraud, a fifth-degree felony. Posey was sentenced to eight months incarceration, suspended, and placed on non-reporting probation for five years. Should Posey violate the terms of her probation, she will be subject to a suspended sentence of eight months in jail.

“Our Special Investigations Department continues to do a fantastic job,” Administrator/CEO Stephanie McCloud said. “By shutting down fraud, this team helps ensure the funds are there for Ohio’s injured workers and employers.”

In other news:

Jason Strzala, dba Goodfellas Plumbing and Drain Inc                               

The Special Investigations Department received a referral from the BWC Employer Compliance Department after Jason Strzala, owner of Goodfellas Plumbing and Drain, failed to cooperate with the compliance officer and continued to operate without BWC coverage. The Employer Fraud Team made further attempts to assist Strzala with reinstating the policy; however, he failed to take the steps necessary to reinstate coverage on the policy.

On September 1, 2021, Strzala pleaded no contest and was found guilty in Parma Municipal Court on two (2) counts of failure to comply, both second-degree misdemeanors. Strzala was sentenced to 60 days in jail, suspended.

Jennifer Soich-Zecher

The Special Investigations Department received an anonymous call to report Jennifer Soich-Zecher working while concurrently receiving BWC benefits.

The Northeast Region SIU’s investigation found Soich-Zecher was employed as a cashier and customer service associate with Walmart and Dollar Tree while collecting BWC disability benefits. The investigation identified that Soich-Zecher worked and received benefits between February and August 2019 and confirmed that she knowingly and with fraudulent intent was working while collecting BWC disability benefits to which she was not entitled.

On September 9, 2021, Jennifer Soich-Zecher pleaded guilty in Franklin County Court of Common Pleas to one count of workers’ compensation fraud, a first-degree misdemeanor. Soich-Zecher was sentenced to five years community control, 180 days jail (suspended) and ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $2,191.45.

Davida Taylor

The Special Investigations Department opened an investigation after it identified Davida Taylor potentially earned wages during time periods she had received BWC disability benefits.

The Northeast Region SIU’s investigation found Taylor maintained employment as a Clinical Technician/Patient Care Nurse Assistant with the Cleveland Clinic while concurrently collecting BWC disability benefits. The investigation identified that Taylor worked and received benefits between March and August 2019.

Davida Taylor pleaded guilty in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas to one count of workers’ compensation fraud, a fifth-degree felony. Taylor was sentenced to non-reporting probation for four years and ordered to pay restitution of $12,206.16 to the BWC. If Taylor violates the terms of her probation, she is subject to a suspended sentence of nine months in jail.

Trench collapse survivor tells his story to save others

By Bruce Loughner, CSP, Safety Technical Resource Consultant

“It was pitch black,” Eric Giguere told a rapt audience at our 2019 Ohio Safety Congress & Expo. “It was like I was hit by a truck going 70 mph.”

He was describing what it was like being buried alive under about 2,000 pounds of dirt in a trench that was six feet deep.

Giguere started the day, Oct. 4, 2002, looking forward to leaving for his honeymoon that afternoon; he ended the day on life support in the intensive care unit of an upstate New York hospital.

“I was 27 years old with a terrible attitude toward safety. I didn’t speak up about unsafe working conditions. I was OK with taking shortcuts,” he said. “That’s why I ended up buried in that trench.” But he wasn’t the only one taking shortcuts that day. His employer had Giguere and his colleagues working in a trench that was six feet deep without trench boxes and other safety measures.

“We got comfortable doing things the wrong way. For what? To cut corners. To save time,” he said. “Well, all it took was a split second to forever change my life and to put my co-workers in the horrible position of having to make a life-or-death decision to help save me.”

One of those co-workers used a backhoe to remove the top layer of dirt from the collapsed trench, knowing that if the bucket struck Giguere, it could kill him.

After 10 minutes of digging frantically by hand, his colleagues eventually uncovered his lifeless body. They began CPR even as he was partially buried. A life flight helicopter transported him to Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, New York.

His wife, who he had married just six days earlier, waited with family members as Giguere’s life hung in the balance. Doctors told them even if he survived, he would likely be severely brain damaged. He would make a miraculous recovery, but it was accompanied by recurring nightmares, fear of dark, enclosed spaces, and forgetfulness.

Cognitive and psychological therapy has helped him recover over time. These days, you’d never know from his outward appearance and demeanor that he suffered such a life-altering event. But it hasn’t been without hardship.

Ultimately, his marriage could not withstand the aftermath of the accident. “In some ways, the man that my wife had married less than a week before never came out of the bottom of that trench,” he said.

However, his second chance at life has given him the opportunity to influence the lives of others in a powerful way. He founded his own company, Safety Awareness Solutions, and he’s shared his story with thousands of workers in the U.S. and internationally with the goal of raising safety awareness.

“The chance to speak with others regarding my accident gives my life a great sense of fulfillment,” he says. “If you learn something and you don’t share it with somebody, it does no good to learn it. I want to share my story, as an average guy, to others in hopes that maybe they’ll realize I’m just like this guy. He did the same things I have done. Maybe I better not do that, or I could end up just like him.”

The BWC Learning Center has a recorded webinar – Trenching Overview: A Focus Four Initiative – you and your employees can view for free. Simply log in to the BWC Learning Center, search for Trenching Overview, click the link, and enroll. Employers who have not yet established a BWC Learning Center login can view instructions here.

In addition, the following training resources can assist you in promoting safer work practices. Employers are required to train their employees to recognize and avoid unsafe conditions, and on the regulations related to the work environment. The training should teach employees to control or eliminate any hazards or other exposure to illness or injury.

Trench Stand Down focuses on keeping workers safe in trenches

By Bruce Loughner, CSP, Safety Technical Resource Consultant

In February 2020, a 34-year-old worker died when a trench he was working in collapsed in Licking County. In June 2020, a trench collapse killed two workers in Starkville, Mississippi.

Unfortunately, these tragic incidents are reminders of the potential dangers of trenching and excavation work. However, most trenching injuries and fatalities are preventable with proper training and safety equipment.

The 2021 Trench Safety Stand Down, scheduled for June 14-18 and sponsored by the National Utility Contractors Association, gives employers an opportunity to talk directly to their workforce and others about trenching and excavation hazards and to reinforce the importance of protecting workers from them.

The Trench Safety Stand Down encourages employers to take a break to have a toolbox talk or other safety activity to draw attention to the specific hazards related to working in and around trenches and excavations.

At BWC, we support the stand down and we’re strongly committed to preventing trenching accidents, which are often deadly. Our Trench Safety Grant is available to employers through our Ohio campaign, TrenchSafetyOhio.com, to increase awareness of the hazards of working in trenches and promote safe trenching work practices.

We realize it may be a challenge to conduct in-person events, but you can still share resources like our trench safety card (In English and Spanish) with your workers. You can also find additional resources and information on our Trench Safety Resources page. We’re hosting a virtual Trenching Safety Stand Down on June 15. During the event, you’ll learn how to identify trenching and excavation risk factors and ways to protect workers.

Additionally, the BWC Learning Center has a recorded webinar – Trenching Overview: A Focus Four Initiative – you and your employees can view for free. Simply log in to the BWC Learning Center, search for Trenching Overview, click the link, and enroll. Employers who have not yet established a BWC Learning Center login can view instructions here.

Whether it’s watching a webinar, sharing videos or information online, or having a smaller event, following proper physical distancing protocols, we hope you’ll take part in the 2021 Trench Safety Stand Down.

The following training resources can assist you in promoting safer work practices. Employers are required to train their employees to recognize and avoid unsafe conditions, and on the regulations related to the work environment. The training should teach employees to control or eliminate any hazards or other exposure to illness or injury.

Real estate agent owes BWC over $151K after fraud conviction

A Columbus-area real estate agent and broker pleaded guilty to one count of workers’ compensation fraud, a felony of the fourth degree.

David L. Garner, 66, worked from 2009 through 2018 as both a real estate agent selling homes, and as a real estate broker providing broker price opinions while receiving the Bureau of Workers Compensation (BWC) disability benefits. Evidence obtained during the investigation revealed Garner intentionally misrepresented and withheld this activity from BWC to collect disability benefits he otherwise would not have been entitled to.

On June 6, a Franklin County judge found Garner guilty and proceeded to sentencing. The judge placed Garner on community control for 3 years and ordered him to pay BWC $151,705.15. If Garner violates the terms of his community control, he is subject to a suspended sentence of 18 months in prison.

To report suspected workers’ compensation fraud, call 1-800-644-6292 or visit bwc.ohio.gov.

Acclimatization and Other Tips to Avoid Heat Illness

By Rich Gaul, Safety Technical Advisor

With summer just around the corner, now is the time to learn about heat illness so you can take the proper precautions. Almost 50% of heat-related deaths occur on a worker’s first day on the job and over 70% occur during a worker’s first week.* High school and college students starting new summer jobs, like landscaping, are at high risk because they may work 8-12 hours per day in the heat.

In an earlier blog, we discussed the signs and symptoms of heat illness. Now we’ll talk about preparing for the heat. Prior to beginning any strenuous physical work or recreational activity, it is important to prepare your body by warming up slowly. Preparing for strenuous activities in the hot summer months is no different.

One of the most important and often overlooked heat illness prevention strategies is called acclimatization. This involves slow and gradual increases to heat exposure over a period of 7 to 14 days. Physiological adaptations occur in the human body during that time period that increase tolerance of heat exposure. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends 20% exposure on day one, with 20% increase in exposure each additional day. Acclimatizing periods are particularly important for new employees and those returning from extended leaves of absence. Employers should have acclimatization plans in place now to help prepare their employees for heat exposure.

A NIOSH study of heat-related illnesses and death found that in most cases, the employers had no program to prevent heat illness, or their programs were deficient. Acclimatization was the program element most commonly missing and most directly associated with worker death.

We all look forward to enjoying the summer months, but it’s important to take the proper precautions. Whether you work in a hot environment or just enjoy summer recreational activities, slow and gradual exposure to heat over a period of several days or weeks will help your body acclimatize.

In addition to acclimatization, following the simple guidelines below will also help prevent heat-related illnesses. 

Other tips to avoid heat illness:

  • Take frequent breaks in shaded areas or air conditioning.
  • Drink plenty of water throughout the day (eight ounces every 15-20 minutes).
  • Avoid direct sunlight to minimize heat load and harmful UV rays.
  • Wear light-colored, light weight, loose clothing that provides natural ventilation.
  • Perform strenuous work in the morning or late afternoon when temperatures are cooler.
  • Know the early warning signs and symptoms of heat illness and seek help when needed.
  • Plan for and know what to do in an emergency.

Use the information in this two-part blog series to prevent heat illness so you can enjoy summer safely. For additional information about heat illness prevention, attend BWC’s virtual training class on Thermal Stress on June 9, 2021 or read BWC’s Heat Stress Safety Talk. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA’s) website provides workers and employers with additional information and resources on heat illnesses and how to prevent it, including heat stress prevention QuickCards available in both English and Spanish. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health also has information on preventing heat-related illness at work in its May 7, 2021 blog.

*Source: OSHA, Heat: Prevention: Protecting New Workers


Prevent electrical injuries during Electrical Safety Month

By Michael Marr, Safety Technical Resource Consultant

Since May is National Electrical Safety Month, we want to share information about electrical safety for Ohio employers as well as some resources to keep Ohio’s workers safe.

National Electrical Safety Month is sponsored by the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFi) to remind the public of the hazards associated with electricity. Each May, ESFi spearheads an annual campaign to educate key audiences about ways to reduce the number of electrically related fires, fatalities, injuries, and property loss. This year’s theme “Connected to Safety,” delves into the emerging technology that makes a home safe and efficient. ESFi has shared the following resources for 2021:

Electrical safety is also important to understand in the workplace. In 2019, there were 166 fatalities and 1,900 injuries requiring days away from work from electrical contacts across the United States. There were three electrocutions in Ohio last year, an increase from previous years. Electrical injuries occur in a wide variety of occupations, but as this chart shows the majority happen in construction and maintenance.

BWC’s Division of Safety and Hygiene (DSH) offers a variety of resources to help employers improve electrical safety in their workplaces.  

Educational Courses: You can register for these courses and more on the BWC Learning Center.

Safety Talks: Safety Talks are intended as a training resource to increase safety awareness and improve performance. Employers can use them to start conversations about safety. The following Safety Talks about electricity and lockout/tagout are available on our website:

If you have questions about electrical safety, BWC is here to help. Reach out to one of our BWC safety consultants online for assistance or call 1-800-644-6292. Don’t forget take advantage of our other safety services as well. DSH offers a wide range of services for all industries at no additional cost to employers including safety consultations, safety education and training, and the BWC safety and video library.

Identify the signs and symptoms of Heat Illness

By Rich Gaul, Safety Technical Advisor

What do constructions workers, school kitchen workers, and the high school students mowing your lawn all have in common? They could potentially be at risk for heat illness, and they should take appropriate precautions.

With the warm summer months fast approaching, employers and their workers must protect themselves from the dangers of heat illness. Although we typically associate heat illness with outdoor work, any worker exposed to hot and humid conditions, whether outdoors or indoors, is at risk of heat illness. And, heat illness is not just a work-related problem. Exertional heat stroke is the second leading cause of death among athletes.

Heat illness occurs when heat builds up in the body faster than the body can cool itself. Heat-related illnesses may include heat rash, heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. Heat stroke is very serious because it requires immediate medical attention and can lead to death if left untreated. The progression of these stages of illness can be gradual or very rapid.

Symptoms of heat illness:

  • Dizziness.
  • Headache.
  • Muscle cramps.
  • Extreme sweating.
  • Fainting.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Weakness.

If you begin to experience heat-related symptoms, you should:

  • Notify someone you are experiencing heat illness symptoms and have them summon help.
  • Find a cool place to lay down, rest, and elevate your feet.
  • Drink plenty of water to rehydrate.
  • Loosen or remove as much clothing as possible.
  • Place cold wet towels around your neck, under your armpits, and across your chest.
  • Seek medical attention if you do not feel better within 30 minutes.

If you observe someone experiencing symptoms of heat stroke (confusion, slurred speech, seizures, very high body temperature, rapid heart rate, unconsciousness) call 911 immediately. When in doubt, call 911. Heat-related illnesses may appear less severe than they really are.

For additional information about heat illness prevention, attend BWC’s virtual training class on Thermal Stress on June 9, 2021 or read BWC’s Heat Stress Safety Talk. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s website provides workers and employers with additional information and resources on heat illnesses and how to prevent it, including heat stress prevention QuickCards available in both English and Spanish. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health also has information on preventing heat-related illness at work in its May 7, 2021 blog.

Workers’ comp fraud lands cheaters costly penalties

Convicts include Central Ohio doc ordered to pay $71K to BWC

Four Ohioans convicted or sentenced for workers’ compensation fraud in April include a Central Ohio physician who unlawfully distributed controlled substances and overbilled the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC).

On April 15, U.S. Judge Michael Wilson of the Southern District of Ohio ordered Kedar Deshpande, MD, to pay $117,122 in restitution, including $70,957 to BWC. The judge also sentenced Deshpande to three years of supervised release, 12 months of which is to be served under home detention, for felony counts of unlawful distribution of controlled substances and false statements relating to health care matters.

“Our Special Investigations Department found Dr. Deshpande upcoded patient office visits by falsely representing the level of examination he performed on our injured workers so he could receive inflated reimbursement from BWC,” said BWC Interim Administrator/CEO John Logue. “Congratulations to our investigators for their work on this important case and for bringing three other fraud cases to a close last month.”

Deshpande is the former owner and operator of the now-closed Orthopaedic & Spine Center, which had three locations in Central Ohio. A multi-jurisdictional task force of state and federal authorities found Deshpande pre-signed blank prescriptions for unqualified and non-licensed staff to complete and dispense to patients in his absence. The staff would fill-in the prescriptions with Schedule II controlled substances before dispensing to patients. The staff would mostly dispense the pre-signed prescriptions when Deshpande was on vacation, arrived late to the office, or was otherwise not at the clinic.

Other April fraud cases include:

William Knox of Athens, Ohio

Knox pleaded guilty April 7 in the Franklin County Common Pleas Court to one count of workers’ compensation fraud and one count of forgery, both fourth-degree felonies. Knox was sentenced to community control for five years and ordered to pay BWC restitution of $131,752.

BWC investigators found Knox inflated his weekly income from his employer of record so he could be paid at a higher weekly rate of compensation from BWC.

Tanya Houston of Shaker Heights, Ohio

A Franklin County judge ordered Houston to pay $23,489 to BWC and serve five years of probation in lieu of a one-year prison sentence after she pleaded guilty to a fifth-degree felony count of workers’ compensation fraud on April 7. BWC discovered Houston working while collecting injured-worker benefits.

Frank Phillips of Hamilton, Ohio

Phillips pleaded guilty April 26 in Franklin County to one count of workers’ compensation fraud, a fifth-degree felony, for working while receiving BWC disability benefits. He was ordered to pay BWC $12,588 in restitution and serve five years on community control.

To report suspected workers’ compensation fraud, call 1-800-644-6292 or visit bwc.ohio.gov.